TOURISM KAROO HIGHLANDS ROUTE The Namakwa District towns of Williston and Fraserburg mark the western edge of the Karoo Highlands Route, which stretches into the southern section of the Pixley ka Seme District to encompass the towns of Carnarvon, Loxton, Vosburg and Victoria West. This is the heart of the Great Karoo. The Karoo Highlands Route is where you can see the stars so clearly you feel that you touch them. The area is renowned for the hospitality of its farming community. Whether you admire the corbelled houses or look back in time at the Gansfontein palaeo-surface, your heart will surely be touched by this region as never before. The Karoo is the home of peace and tranquillity where you can recharge your batteries while exploring the wide open plains dotted with koppies (hills). This is a place where a huge telescope allows you to look back to the beginnings of our universe 13-billion years ago, and where pre-dinosaurs roamed the earth and the first people gazed up to the heavens. People have lived on this massive plateau, the largest of its kind outside Asia, for about 500 000 years. The Khoi and San people who left their legacy as art on the rocks gave the Karoo its name. The area’s name comes from “karusa”, a Khoi word that means dry, barren, thirstland. This aptly describes this region, where water is scarce. It is an ancient, fossil-rich land, with some important archaeological sites, as well as the largest variety of succulents found anywhere on earth: there are more than 9 000 plant species in the Great Karoo. The route offers plenty of interesting attractions, such as Karoo architecture and corbelled houses, Anglo-Boer War sites, rock art, ancient palaeo-surfaces, farm stays and medicinal plants. THINGS TO DO There is a lot to do on this small but unique route. The area is famous for its successful sheep farming, and it is one of the best stargazing destinations in the world. In the Karoo there is something for every traveller – there are quiet and scenic vast landscapes, friendly local people, traditional food and a whole lot of adventure. The various small towns, including Carnarvon, Loxton, Victoria West, Vosburg and Williston each offer something different from the other. NATURAL SPLENDOUR A self-drive excursion through the Appie van Heerden Nature Reserve is a sight for sore eyes in this arid part of the Northern Cape. The 860ha nature reserve is located just outside Carnarvon, and here you will see spectacular Karoo veld vegetation that forms part of the Karee mountains. Spot various wild animals, including blesbok, black wildebeest, zebra, springbok and gemsbok, all of which used to roam this part of the country freely before the commencement of sheep farming in the region.
11 TOURISM FORGOTTEN HIGHWAY ROUTE The Forgotten Highway Route retraces the steps of ancient forbears and explorers, missionaries and diamond prospectors. The 1 000km route stretches from Tulbagh and Ceres in the Western Cape to Kuruman in the north. In between, the route mostly comprises the territory of the Pixley ka Seme District. It is the route that was used by the !Xam, KhoeKhoe, Tswana and missionaries. From there, travellers would venture into central Africa. The project to recover and restore the route was undertaken by the Karoo Development Foundation, which achieved its first landmark success in 2015 when Karoo lamb was registered as a Geographic Indicator. The towns of the Pixley ka Seme District that travellers visit along the route include Carnarvon, Vanwyksvlei, Prieska, Niekerkshoop and Griekwastad. After the indigenous people and the missionaries came the prospectors, eager to get as quickly as possible to the diamond fields of Kimberley. Every kind of conceivable good was carried along the route, sufficient to turn Kimberley into one of the busiest places in the Southern Hemisphere and to create traffic jams of wagons along the route. Two events of 1877 spelt the end of the road through Karoopoort as a route of choice: the railway line to the north reached Touwsrivier, meaning that northbound goods and passengers had a much more direct choice, and a new pass over the Cedarberg from Clanwilliam, the Pakhuis Pass, gave direct access to the Karoo. The first town encountered when travelling from the south is Carnarvon, originally established as a mission station and now world-famous as the site of the SKA radio astronomy project. The domed stone roofs of corbelled houses are a feature of the area and one of them is preserved in the grounds of the Dutch Reformed Church. The Carnarvon Museum offers glimpses into the past and a fort from the days of the Anglo-Boer War has been repurposed as a water tank. The town of Prieska is located on the south bank of the Orange River. This is the point where travellers would ford the river in days gone by and the river naturally makes this a good spot to stop for tourists. The discovery of semi-precious stones was a reason not to travel any further north, and the fort built by the British in Anglo-Boer War was constructed using tiger’s eye. War graves from that conflict are in the town’s Memorial Garden and the Schumann Rock Collection is a reminder of that part of the town’s history. Vanwyksvlei is the site of the nation’s first state-funded dam. The Vanwyksvlei Dam was built in 1882. Salt pans surround the village and San rock art can be viewed nearby. Griekwastad is famous as a founding location of the Griqua nation and the grave of Andries Waterboer can be visited. The Mary Moffat Museum is named for the daughter of the famous missionary Robert. The nearby Witsand Nature Reserve is a popular destination.